Anecdote to anecdote

One of the common conversations held between food safety nerds is about the predictable meme-like sharing of phrases that folks use to explain why they do risky things like eat undercooked foods or wash their poultry and other stuff. It usually goes like: ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time, with no consequence. 

Risk doesn’t work like that. And that’s what I told Brian Handwerk at Smithsonian Magazine.

“I think it’s human nature to live anecdote to anecdote. If I’ve been undercooking my burger for 20 years and I’ve never gotten sick, I’m very comfortable with that. You can tell me about the risk, but I’ve never seen it realized. On the flip side, I know people who’ve lost loved ones to foodborne illness and they look at things drastically differently.”

I also got in a plug for environmental sources of pathogens, and that animals might not always be involved:

There’s also growing evidence that these pathogens can survive for a long time in soil and other environments, says Chapman, citing recent ilness outbreaks stemming from almonds, peanut butter and flour that seem to have no discernible animal sources. “Increasingly we’re opening up our minds and saying the environment might also be a pretty decent source for hosting foodborne pathogens,” he says.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.